“For God’s sake, boy, act your age for once in your lifetime and stop fidgeting," said King Ezran of Akadia to his seventeen-year-old son, who stilled and muttered, “Sorry, Father.”
Chase stared out of the window, gazing at the towering peaks of the Planina Range in Toqou. He wanted to go out there and conquer the rise and falls of the mountains, to stretch his aching legs. Travelling was not his favourite pastime.
Their carriage jolted suddenly and Chase closed his eyes, leaning back.
“Sit straight,” his father told him, and with a grimace, he did so.
His mother smiled at him. “Gentle, Ezran, he’s still a boy,” she said softly. “He tires of passiveness and wants to run wild, don’t you, dear?”
As Chase nodded gratefully, his father said, “That may be, but he’s the Prince and should behave accordingly. Grow a spine, boy.”
“Yes, Father. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry has no value in the real world—”
“Boys, please,” Queen Laia said wearily. Feeling guilty, Chase studied her pale, tired face and thin frame. She caught his eye and smiled; he could barely return it.
It was because of the Queen’s illness that they were travelling to Toqou. The doctors had advised exposure to the clear, crisp mountain air of Toqou for her failing health. Chase hoped she would get better soon. Every glance at her made his chest tighten with unease. He banished the thoughts from his head and returned his gaze outside. For the rest of the journey, he sat quietly, mindful of his posture. His father would always find a mistake in the blink of an eye.
Soon the carriage halted and the coachman opened the door. Chase’s father supported his mother down the steps, Chase following them. He looked at the small cottage, breathing in the cool air deeply. Following his parents inside, he explored the rooms: a small kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom.
“We’re going to get some rest, Chase,” his mother said to him as he walked into the bedroom. “You can go off and explore the country, but take Josh and Goerge with you.”
Chase nodded and went outside, watching the two men carry the luggage inside. Then he called them, saying, “Josh, Goerge, stay close.”
He turned to the beautiful scenery, taking in the mountains, the lush green grass beneath his feet.
I hope I find a good hunt here, he thought. That would be fun.
He found his way into a village, where people bustled around on the streets and vendors called out from their stalls on the sides. The houses were small and quaint. Chase hummed a jaunty tune, sauntering down the street. Barely anyone glanced at him. Usually, he’d find this offensive, but here, all he wanted was a bit of quiet time.
Without warning, someone crashed into his side, sending both of them sprawling. Chase scrambled up, saying indignantly, “Hey!”
The figure—a boy, really, barely sixteen—tried to push himself up. His elbows gave way and he fell back, breathing heavily. After a moment, he looked up.
Chase glared into the steel grey eyes, taking in the sharp features, the prominent cheekbones and the pale skin. He glanced down, noticing how the boy’s leg was resting in an unnatural angle. His clothes were dirty and his face bruised—a split lip was steadily dripping blood.
The boy gripped the edge of a stall and dragged himself up, completely ignoring Chase. That did not sit well.
“Hey,” Chase said. “At least apologize!”
The boy glared at him.
“Do you even realize who I am?” Chase puffed up his chest. ” I’m the Prince of Akadia, you little punk.”
His glare didn’t waver.
Chase huffed, crossing his arms. “You picking fights?” he asked. “I could get you charged, you know—”
He stumbled back as the boy punched him in the jaw.
For a moment, Chase stared at him, stunned, hand on his jaw. Then he spluttered indignantly and yelled, “Guards! Seize him!”
Josh and George lunged forward, towards the boy, but he jerked back, and in the blink of an eye, he’d vanished.
His guards searched, with no results. Chase set his jaw, grinning suddenly. “We’ve got ourselves a chase, boys. I like his spirit. Find him and bring him here.”
As his guards saluted and sprinted off, Chase chuckled. Beneath his offence and shock, he was intrigued. Who was this feisty young man? He was going to find out. He grinned wider.
He waited for a while, then when his guards didn’t show up, wandered back to their cottage.
He didn’t have to wait long before both men came running back.
“His name is Draven Stone, sire. He’s admitted into the local azil. He has quite a large reputation—he’s also the youngest in the azil, at sixteen.”
“Hmm. Mentally disturbed, is he?”
“From what we were able to gather, sire,” Josh said, “he is considered to be an aljan, he is so... inhuman.”
“In what sense?”
“Unfortunately, sire, I was unable to garner much information. The locals seemed uneasy talking about that particular subject.”
Chase raised his eyebrows. “I wonder why,” he said to himself. “Interesting.” Turning to the men, he said, “Well, boys, looks like we’ll be paying Mr Stone a visit.”
“I’m here to visit Draven Stone, Mr...?”
“Herrington. Jonas Herrington “
Chase inclined his head. “I’d like to meet with Draven Stone. I have some...matters to discuss with him.”
“Of course, sir. I shall send for him immediately.” Herrington stood, and with a short bow, left the room.
Chase waited impatiently, tapping his fingers on his knees. He’d been shown to a room and told to sit while the servant fetched the head.
After a short time, the door opened and a familiar boy stepped in. His grey eyes assessed Chase and for a moment, Chase couldn’t look away—they were so intense. His light brown hair was neatly brushed to the side and his clothes, a white collared shirt, a black jacket and black pants, were impeccable.
Draven held himself like a king would: back straight; shoulders back and even; chin high; weight evenly distributed—he had the grace of a royal. Chase suddenly felt as if he was the one about to be interrogated. He mentally shook himself and said, “Draven Stone.”
“Prince Chase,” Draven said, voice dispassionate. His expression remained completely inscrutable.
Chase tapped a finger against his knee. “You don’t seem surprised,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“I have been expecting you.”
“Really?” Chase raised eyebrows higher.
Draven seemed unperturbed. Voice deadpan, he said, “Royals never can leave something until they’ve got all the fuss they want.”
For a moment, Chase was speechless. “Not many people have the audacity to be so disrespectful while face to face with the Prince of Akadia.”
Draven studied him for a second and Chase resisted the urge to squirm. Lifting his chin slightly, Draven said, “I am not most people.”
“No,” Chase agreed. “Most people aren’t members of an azil at the age of sixteen. People have accused you of being an aljan as well, or so I’ve heard. What do you have to say about that?”
“Absolutely ridiculous,” Draven said smoothly. “But people only see what they want to.”
Chase hummed. “Why are you here, Draven?”
Draven’s eyebrow arched slightly. “Weren’t your men able to find that out?”
“Their information was unsatisfactory,” he said flatly, then stopped. “Wait—how do you know about my men?”
“A little common sense.”
A flash of disdain crossed Draven’s face. “You know my name, my age and my reputation,” he said. “You said so I’ve heard, which implies that you were told. I saw the same two men yesterday that had been with you here, talking with the locals. If you had been here, I would’ve heard. Besides, princes tend to make their men do all the jobs while they sit and watch from their fancy castles.”
Furious, Chase stood up. “You have no idea what the life of a royal is like! You need to watch your mouth, boy, before I charge you.”
Draven remained unmoving. “Pulling rank now? I’m merely stating facts, Prince Chase.”
Chase exhaled through grit teeth and crossed his arms. “Well? Are you going to answer my question?”
For a moment, Draven was silent. Then quietly, he said, “Genius is often mistaken for madness. Here, people do not know how to distinguish between the two.”
Chase frowned. “You claim to be a genius?” he asked at length.
“It has been proven.”
Chase stared at him, trying to figure him out. “If you don’t deserve to be here,” he said finally, “why haven’t you already left?”
“What makes you think I’ll tell you, Prince Chase?”
“Why won’t you?”
“For the same reasons, I would suppose, that you keep the real relationship with your father hidden from everyone else.”
For a moment, Chase stared, askance. “My—my relationship— How—?”
“And the fact that it was actually because of you that your mother, the Queen, acquired her disease.”
Draven’s words were like a punch to the chest. Chase’s shoulders stiffened and he quickly made for the door. Draven watched him, expressionless. As Chase hurried out of the room, eager to get away from the strange boy, Draven said, “Anklas might help.”
Chase gave him a harried look, confused by his statement—but he would think about it later. As fast as he could, he put maximum distance between himself and the enigmatic Draven Stone.